The Michigan Rock and Roll Legends Hall of Fame may have finally found its forever home inside the walls of the Historical Museum of Bay County.
The museum, 321 Washington Ave., is hosting the Michigan Rock and Roll Legends Hall of Fame
as a permanent, living, interactive display. Curator and board member Gary Johnson is spearheading the display, which will feature all of Michigan rock and roll history with a strong local focus.
The displays inside the Hall of Fame date back to the earliest days of rock and roll history.
“Obviously you can't have everything, but some interesting points, starting out with the formation of Fortune Records out of Detroit,” Johnson says.
Shaking up the sounds with artists ranging from Del Shannon, Bob Seger, and the MC5 up through ? and The Mysterians, Madonna, and the Bay City Rollers, Johnson figures the timeline for Michigan rock was filtered through this most unique, genre-bending record label in 1946.
“Fortune was one of the real early labels. They were very important as far as bringing in country artists and blues artists and eventually melding into rock and roll.”
In addition to touring the display, music fans can visit the museum for every second Saturday of the month for special presentations. The first was held March 12 for the grand opening.
The plan is display local and state-wide artists on regular rotation, keeping it fresh and updated. Johnson has voiced the scope, pace, and breadth on his Michigan Music History Podcast since February 2021.
During the Hall of Fame’s grand opening on March 12, Johnson featured Frankie Lymon’s Tombstone Blues. Dennis Loren was at the opening and also will be featured in the museum.
Loren started out in 1967 in San Francisco.
“His early posters were on Muddy Waters and Jimi Hendrix. He created this great poster (for the museum and) I was shocked and had no idea he was going to do that. He’s going to make 13x19 copies to autograph.”
Johnson didn’t forget local history when curating the exhibits.
“There's really a big emphasis on Bay City and Bay County in the display,” he notes. “People going in there thinking it's going to be all Bob Seger and so on and so forth are going to be surprised.”
The beginnings of the Hall of Fame
The museum started as an online entity alone. Its second home was inside the former Bay City Motor Company in Downtown Bay City. When the classic car company hit legal hard times, Johnson got help from Scott Causley of Scotty’s Sandbar
, 1201 Evergreen Drive.
“Scott Causley had not only helped me take things off the wall, but he also volunteered Scotty’s Sandbar as a place where we could put the display.”
In typical rock fashion, that’s when Johnson found himself at a crossroads.
“I’m on the board of the museum and I talked about the problems I was having,” he recalls. “Mike Bacigalupo asked me if I'd be interested in putting up the display at the Historical Museum of Bay County. (Bacigalupo) didn't even realize that it was at Scotty’s at this point. It gave me some pause.”
Moving into the museum created the opportunity to grow, which gave Johnson a decision to make.
“I had never done anything quite like that before. The big looming question is, could I get enough material to fill the gallery and make it worthwhile so that people would want to go in there? I decided to go for it. If I fail, well, at least I went down swinging.”
Scotty's Sandbar will remain a secondary location.
What to expect inside the Hall of Fame
The big feature for the downtown Historical Museum fell into Johnson’s lap just after he decided to expand into downtown.
“No sooner had I committed, I got an email that Frankie Lymon’s tombstone was now in somebody's backyard in their flower garden.”
Lymon’s music was the forerunner to what much of the Motown sound was based on.
“Frankie Lymon and The Teenagers were so big and so important, but they were only together for a little over a year. That adolescent sound was just gigantic in terms of being influential.”
Read about the tombstone’s journey to Bay City in this Feb. 4, 2021 Route Bay City article.
Johnson unknowingly began writing his first book as he awaited the arrival of the tombstone at the museum.
“While I was trying to negotiate to get a company (to transport the tombstone), I started writing some stories for my website. First about the history of the Teenagers. As I continued writing that, the story started to get a little longer. One story turned into two stories and as I met more people, it developed into three stories and then four stories. The thing grew to the point that it was over 37,000 words.
“I thought this would probably be a good thing to have in the Museum if we were going to have the tombstone as our centerpiece. Why not have a book available so that people could actually find out the total story?”
Another attraction in the Hall of Fame is the Bay City Rollers exhibit.
“The Bay City Rollers got their name from Bay City, Michigan, of course,” smiles Johnson. “One of the big events in town happened in August of 1977. Each one of the Rollers was presented with a key to the city and a proclamation making them official citizens of Bay City.
“They didn't perform, but they put their handprints in cement and wrote their autograph with their fingers. We have that at the museum and we have a creative way that people can get very close to them without actually touching.”
By stroke of luck, Johnson just landed a Roller’s key and proclamation as well.
“One of them was how to display those handprints along with Derek Longmuir’s key that he received back in 1977. Rebel D’Elia, President of the Bay City Rollers Fan Club, managed to get it. (Longmuir) lives in Scotland, mailed it to her, along with his proclamation making him an official citizen.”
Another feature will be on long-time Michigan shock rocker, Alice Cooper.
“He was born in Detroit and performed in Bay City four times, which is pretty significant,” adds Johnson. “I think of all the big name rock and rollers, he has appeared here the most times.
Johnson credits a solid core of friends for making this all possible.
“It was a team effort,” he maintains. “Three guys that I worked very closely with and did such a sensational job are; Avram Golden, who did all the framing for the posters and various things; Nick Van Horn, who is a designer and is so good at putting things up on the wall, making them look absolutely great; and Myles Roznowski, who installed and built some great signs including the Michigan Rock and Roll Legends sign with neon. He also built wing display cases.”
Also, Johnson notes, two videos on Motown will be looping thanks to help from his son Brandon. Special QR codes near song displays will lead patrons to over 150 Hall of Fame Michigan songs for a listen and story on his Rock Legends website.
“I’ve written biographies on all the inductees,” he adds. “We have a big Madonna display in there since she’s by far the most famous musical person that’s ever been born in Bay City. There’s stories I’ve written about Madonna including a ‘tour of sites’ that have something to do with Madonna around Bay City as well.”
While there is no admission to get in, Johnson is selling his book for $20, with all proceeds going back to the Museum.
“A cool thing about the museum is that there is no admission charge for anything. My gift to the museum is the book. I appreciate the opportunity that they've given me to have a permanent home for the Michigan Rock and Roll Legends.”
The museum is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays through Fridays.
“I’d like to eventually show rock and roll movies on the weekend, or at least one weekend per month,” says Johnson. “Possibly live performances, it's a pretty small room, but it can be done.”